Kigali , Rwanda – By E K Benj
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has today (Sunday 06th December 2020) joined Catholics from across the country to celebrate the first-ever Rwandan Cardinal, His Eminence Antoine Kambanda at the Kigali Arena.
Former Archbishop of Kigali, was one of the 13 new Cardinals announced by Pope Francis on Sunday 28 November 2020 during the Angelus prayer.
Kambanda, in an interview with Vatican News, said the news came as a great surprise to him.
How did you receive the news, and what was your reaction?
It was a big surprise for me, which I did not expect. I was living my usual everyday activities when someone called me with the news. I did not believe it at first. It is a surprise for me. I thank the Lord, for He is the author of history: History in general or personal history. I never ever dreamt of being a Cardinal. It was the Lord who wanted it. I love the Lord, and I consecrated my life to work for Him. Being a Cardinal gives me the opportunity to do even much more for the Lord. I am incredibly grateful to the Holy Father for entrusting me with this responsibility. I love the Church; I enjoy working for the Church, and this will also give me the opportunity to do much more for it.
Your country, Rwanda, went through a difficult period of the Genocide. Today, this country continues to reflect on the wounds of the past and continues to live reconciliation. What challenges do you foresee. as a future Cardinal, chosen at a time when the Pope has just published his encyclical, “Fratelli tutti.” How do you see yourself living this reality in this your new responsibility?
We have been on a 26-year journey after the Genocide. And we have worked hard for reconciliation. It was terrible to see a Catholic and Christian community divided and killing each other during the Genocide. We thank the Lord for the journey we have taken so far. At this time, however, we have reached a level of reconciliation and unity and Pope’s encyclical “Fratelli tutti” has been warmly welcomed in Rwanda. We will continue to meditate and deepen our reflection. The encyclical will reinforce and facilitate our pastoral work of reconciliation. And now yes, I have been given a new challenge in the role of evangelization within the universal Church. I will try to witness to the best of my abilities and make my contribution and share solidarity with others who are also suffering violent conflicts and divisions in the communities.
On 7 May 2013, you were appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Kibungo and then on 19 November 2018, Pope Francis appointed you as the Archbishop of Kigali. Today you have been appointed Cardinal in the universal Church. How do you feel about this sign of great confidence that the Church has bestowed in you?
I thank the Lord for his grace which is at works in his Church all the time –a Church which today faces several challenges. Therefore, we must work hard to share and make the message of Salvation better understood. It is both joy, a great burden, and a challenge.
Are you the first to be appointed Cardinal in your country?
Yes. In the history of Rwanda, I am the first to be appointed Cardinal. In the region of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Region of Central Africa (Conférence Episcopal Centrafricaine) which comprises Rwanda, DRC, and Burundi, we have two Cardinals in the DRC. Now it is a great joy for the Great Lakes Region to have one more.
What message do you have for your compatriots in Rwanda, on this joyous occasion of your appointment as the country’s first-ever Cardinal. Also, for the Great Lakes Region, still in need of reconciliation?
I am very grateful to my fellow Bishops in Rwanda and in the region for their collaboration, solidarity, and the work we do. If the Pope made me a Cardinal, it is also thanks to the faith, work, and pastoral care of the entire community. I assure (my compatriots and those in the region) of my collaboration and solidarity, especially for peace and reconciliation, in this region. We live in times of tension, now mixed with the Covid-19 pandemic. As pastors, we need to guide people towards peace, brotherhood, and sisterhood. In this context, the encyclical “Fratelli tutti” will enlighten us and will help us a lot in our pastoral work for reconciliation and fraternity.
Who is Antoine Kambanda?
Antoine Kambanda was born on 10 November 1958 in Rwanda. Because of inter-ethnic violence, his family moved briefly to Burundi and then to Uganda, where he attended elementary, and then to Kenya, where he attended high school.
Later he returned to his homeland, where he attended the junior Seminary in Rutongo, Kigali, (1983–1984) and the Saint Charles Borromeo Major Seminary of Nyakibanda in Butare (1984–1990).
On 8 September 1990, he was ordained a priest in Kabgayi by Pope John Paul II. After that he was Prefect of Studies from 1990 to 1993 in the minor seminary of St. Vincent in Ndera, Kigali. He then attended the Alphonsian Academy in Rome from 1993 to 1999, where he obtained a doctorate in moral theology. His parents and five of his six siblings, along with many other relatives and friends, were killed in 1994 during the genocide against the Tutsi.
Kambanda was appointed Director of the diocesan office of Caritas in Kigali in 1999. He then became director of the Development Committee of the Diocese of Kigali, head of the “Justice and Peace” Commission of the diocese, and professor of moral theology and visitor at the Nyakibanda Major Seminary.
Speaking in 2004 of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Kambanda acknowledged that while some members of the Catholic clergy had tried to protect the people, others had been complicit in the killings. Kambanda noted the need for the Catholic Church itself to undergo reconstruction to shake off the effects of the genocide. He has said “the use of the sacrament of penance for reconciliation and healing of ethnic hatred and the reconciliation with oneself, with God and with the others, would be significant to develop a faith characterized by trust that overcomes the fear of the other.
“In September 2005 Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe appointed him rector of the inter-diocesan major philosophy seminary in Kabgayi. On 10 February 2006 Kambanda was appointed rector of the Saint Charles Borromeo Major Seminary of Nyakibanda. He replaced Monseigneur Smaragde Mbonyintege, who had been named a bishop.
In June 2011 he led five hundred Rwandan pilgrims to Namugongo, Uganda, to join the Martyrs Day ceremonies to commemorate the 45 Christian converts who were killed in 1884 by King Mwanga II of Buganda. In his sermon, he said that the sacrifice the martyrs made had greatly helped the spread of Christianity in Africa by showing missionaries that converts would be willing to die for their faith.
On 7 May 2013, Pope Francis named Kambanda Bishop of Kibungo.
He succeeded Kizito Bahujimihigo, who resigned in January 2010 amid “serious financial problems” in the diocese and threats on the part of creditor banks to seize diocesan assets. The Episcopal Conference of Rwanda elected him to attend the Synod of Bishops in 2015. On 19 November 2018, Pope Francis named him Archbishop of Kigali.
On 25 October 2020, Pope Francis announced he would raise him to the rank of cardinal at a consistory scheduled for 28 November 2020. At that consistory, Pope Francis made him Cardinal Priest of San Sisto.